Bollywood’s big-screen dreamboat John Abraham sounds too good to be true. The Race 2 star responds to e-mails personally, takes my name at every turn and politely enquires about the well-being of my toddler. So it’s easier to believe him when he rattles off statements such as, “be it a man or a woman, they should connect with John Abraham because of the person that he is.”
He may have the unusual habit of speaking about himself in the third person, but there’s no denying the earnestness behind his plea.
“It’s not like I am running away from a physicality I possess. It is important to be a good person because being good makes you look better.”
For an average Joe who doesn’t possess his jawline or that sculpted chest, the lesson may be a bit simplistic. Abraham claims he has always tried hard to shed his all-brawn-no-brain image, but it’s a battle the he knows he will likely never win.
“There was a time when I tried to get away from that tag. But now I just don’t bother. Last year, just when I thought I had escaped, I won the tag of sexiest man alive. Like somebody close to me once said: ‘As far as John Abraham is concerned, you may be 30,40 or 50 – this tag of being attractive is always going to stay’,” said Abraham, alluding to his debut as producer last year with indie sleeper hit Vicky Donor.
In 2012, the 40-year-old actor took the industry and his (mostly female) fans by surprise with the unusual production venture. Devoid of A-listers, Vicky Donor, made under his J Entertainment banner, was a comedy that explored the sticky issue of sperm donation and infertility. Unlike big-budget Bollywood musicals, it did not boast big names loaded with star power and was led by newcomer Ayushmann Khurrana. Abraham was quiet until the promotion phase.
“Vicky Donor was a classic case of making a film that I truly believed in. I am in Delhi right now and I was just getting off the flight when a very senior actor – I can’t name him — said ‘John, it’s so encouraging to know that you are very good-looking, talented actor. But above all — you are now an actor with brains. Vicky Donor proved that for you’,” Abraham says.
But wasn’t acting in a film such as Race 2, releasing today in the UAE, a regressive career move?
Directed by duo Abbas-Mastan, their films are as consistent as their all-white wardrobe choices. The convoluted thrillers are a heady cocktail of fast cars, feisty women and back-stabbing brothers; scruples are frowned upon, while men and women are generally shirtless. The sequel to the 2008 thriller bears all those familiar trademarks. Barring Saif Ali Khan and Anil Kapoor, the original cast has been shelved; new players include Abraham, Deepika Padukone, Ameesha Patel and Jacqueline Fernandez. Their poster tagline gives an all-important clue: “Betrayal is survival”.
“With Race 2, I am getting into the commercial space again,” says Abraham. “It’s important to have a mix of everything as an actor and produce the kind of films we envision. I have always believed that one needs to act in films that you are perfectly cast in.” The trailers show a dapper-looking Abraham stepping out of a chopper, on a mission to demolish his on-screen enemy, Khan.
“I have seen the rough cut and it looks nice. It’s interesting and is your quintessential Abbas-Mustan film with lots of twists in it … it’s bigger and better than Race,” said Abraham. Since it’s a thriller, Abraham is not too keen on giving away the details, but he does the math in his head.
“Race 2 is a film that will invariably do good business. It’s a film that’s important for a commercial actor like me. Be it Desi Boyz, Housefull 2 or Race 2, these are films that belong to that massive commercial set-up space,” said Abraham.
Tradition often dictates that a Bollywood hero prove his prowess in potboilers to reinstate his bankability at the box office. Perhaps his logic explains the attitude displayed by the Race 2 stars during a press junket in Dubai last week. Bordering on smug, the men seemed lethargic when answering some of the questions. When a journalist asked: If life was a race, what would you chase?, Khan retorted: “Is this a press conference or Stardust convention?” before grudgingly adding: “I guess success and happiness.” When it was Abraham’s turn, he responded with: “oh, do you really want me to answer that?” and followed it with a cute “burning 600 calories daily”. We didn’t get the joke, but ask Abraham about it and he brushes it off as a blip that occurs when there are far too many actors sharing a platform.
“There were many of us on stage. It was like Housefull 2 scenario, with 10,000 of us on stage. During the shoot, believe me, the energy was positive. Wherever the energy has been positive, my films have worked.” Race 2 may appease his quest as a bankable star but when it comes to satisfying his creative soul he looks up to his forthcoming releases such as Shootout At Wadala and I, Me Aur Main. “Shootout” is an action drama in which he plays the dreaded gangster Manya Surve, who was shot down by police in an orchestrated encounter in Mumbai, while the latter is a romantic comedy that sees him play a self-absorbed slob.
“Shootout At Wadala is going to be a film that breaks every single norm that existed in my plate. I have worked very hard for my character. I won’t comment on my role until it releases because before that you are prone to presumptions.”
It may be a little late for that. As soon as the first look of Shootout was unveiled, headlines screamed “Bollywood’s first shirtless Don” and speculation began as to whether he would promote the film shirtless. The moral? Abraham gets objectified, again.
“I don’t care what you or anybody else says in this respect. I know that Shootout is a credible film. If a film is not good or sensible, I don’t talk about it.”
In I, Me, Aur Mein, starring Chitrangada Singh and Prachi Desai, Abraham is swimming in familiar territory. He plays the selfish, careless-in-love Ishaan Sabbarwal.
“An Ishaan exists in every woman’s life. He loves himself way too much … there’s going to be a lot of women who will identify with this film. I think I have always appealed to women in the sense that I am a man with a bronzed body, who comes out of the water. But with I, Me, Aur Mein, I am going to touch another depth. I am going to touch on that emotional space in women,” said Abraham.
He may play a narcissistic bloke on the big screen but when tabloid! asked him to rate himself in real life on the vanity scale, he says: “You want an honest answer? I look in the mirror once in the morning by default... I never really pay attention to myself. I prefer paying attention to people around me.”